We need to talk about the school bus. In other cultures, people admit that school starts when you get on the bus. In The Netherlands, for example, the kids pedal themselves to school on the bus. Absurd, yes, but the fundamental acknowledgement that the schoolday begins on the bus seems positive to me.
On the other hand, most parents ignore the bus ride when they think about school.
The Pioneer Woman is a media personality who never wants to offend anyone, yet she somehow has to explain why she homeschools, and she explains that the bus ride was too long. She couldn’t bear to see her kids spending that much time sitting on the bus. It’s amazing to me that people aren’t offended because they put their kids on the bus every day.
The quality of one’s commute has huge impact on their life. This is true for adults in study after study, so I don’t know why it’s not true for kids. Here are four reasons why the bus ride to school is terrible:
1. It’s too long – for anyone. Not just kids. The average commute for adults is 25 minutes. The average school bus ride is longer than that. We know that a commute longer than ten miles negatively impacts and adult’s health, so surely the same negative affects apply to kids. And research papers call on policy makers to address the problem. But of course, this is not where school reformers like to spend their time. And as school districts look for places to cut costs, they often slash bus routes, which saves a lot of money and means longer bus rides.
2. The unpredictability is too hard on kids. Kids like predictability. And responsible parents create a predictable home life. School is predictable. (Not in a good way, but that’s not the point of this post.) The bus ride is totally unpredictable.
There are tons of kids with only one adult, and the adult is driving them. Even when there is an adult supervising, the adult has no authority over the kids. It’s complete mayhem. And there is nowhere to hide.
Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness, (one of my favorite books), says that the worst thing in life—worse than losing a limb—is an unpredictable commute. Because a lost limb you can adjust to mentally, and humans are good at adjusting. But if you never know how something will be and it will often be bad, you have no ability to mentally adjust to the bad situation.
3. The bus ride impacts kids ability to perform at school. We know that if you have a bad commute to work, it spills over into the rest of your life; it affects how you treat your co-workers, and it you have a bad commute going home, it affects how you treat your family. Surely this means that kids are spending the first hour of school recuperating from the bus ride, and the first hour after school recuperating.
4. When you put your kid on the bus you devalue your kid’s time. The school bus is really an integral part of the institutionalized babysitting program—you don’t even have to drive your kids to school! Instead, the kids sit on the bus for triple the amount of time it takes to drive to school. I understand why we bus kids to school when their parents cannot drive them. But I don’t understand why middle class families are putting their kids on the bus.